Stop asking God what to do

I don’t often write advice, especially spiritual advice. I am not what you would call an adamant, proclaim it to the world, tell you how to live Christian sort of person. However, I recently read a somewhat humorous blog post in which an acquaintance divulges his struggle over figuring out where God wants his family to live.

This caused me some real concern. Mainly, because this poor guy suffers from the delusion that Chicago is a bad place (and apparently, his poor wife has spent most of her life suffering from the delusion that Chicago is less “safe” than St. Louis – it is not).

All joking aside, though…

I am concerned because I have seen so many of my Christian friends and family fret over trying to figure out what God wants them to do and where God is calling them. I have seen people make some pretty dumb choices that wind up making them miserable because they somehow got it in their head that God called them to do it.

Personally, I don’t think God cares about most of this stuff. I don’t think God really “calls” as often as people say he does. I don’t think God cares where you live, what city you prefer, or really any of those things. God probably cares less about whom you marry than your parents do. He probably doesn’t really care very much about what career you choose among most available careers out there. All God really cares about is WHY you do the things you do. I think God is more concerned with the purity of your heart and how you treat other people than what kind of personal preferences you make big life decisions on. God wants to bless your life and work through you wherever you choose to live,whatever career your choose to pursue, whatever car you buy, person you marry, team you root for, etc.

Even Bryan, the guy who posted the original blog I mentioned earlier, makes reference to these larger themes when he says,

It was almost as I heard God laugh, then almost right away as I read about loving my enemies I felt God tell me to begin to love this city as he loves this city…. God wants me to come to love the city I hate so badly and wanting me to love the people there so that gospel transformation might take place.

This fellow also puts it quite well:

I would love it if someone did a verse by verse survey of the Bible to compare how much of it is about HOW to make wise choices on your own vs. abdicating decision making to God. My inclination is that the Bible is mainly filled with guidelines about how to make our own decisions.

I think Christians fall into a very dangerous habit of abdicating their decision making to God. Not letting their decisions be directed by God’s wisdom, but by God himself. It is hyper-spiritualism run amok. It is also a little bit narcissistic to think God has an opinion about such trivial decisions in your life. Yes, where you live is, in the grand scheme of things, a trivial decision (so is who you marry). In general, most people live, love, and thrive in MOST of the habitable places of the world. There are very few moral implications related to the geographic location of your domicile.

There are several spiritually harmful implications to abdicating your decision making to God.

1. It is lazy and gimmicky

It is difficult and stressful to sit down and weigh out pro’s and con’s of a decision and try to make a smart choice. Economists and psychologists who study choice theory are all too aware of the paralysis associated with trying to make the “perfect choices.”

A healthy response is to recognize that many of the decisions we fret about don’t matter as much as we think they do. An unhealthy response is to come up with gimmicks in order to avoid serious thought. Some people might flip a coin or roll dice. I used to shoot free throws. This is okay if you truly recognize the triviality of Choice A over Choice B. But this is not okay if you are doing it to avoid the hard work of making a wise decision.

Think about it like a child doing a math problem. The right way to do it is to follow the steps and work out the answer. The wrong way to do it is to just ask an adult to give you the answer. I can imagine many times God views us asking him what decision to make as similarly lazy and is saying back to us, “Do the work yourself! If I give you all the answers, you won’t learn anything!”

2. It is a form of divination

Much of the occult and mystic beliefs are centered around “divining the fates.” People look to astrological charts, tea leaves, bone fragments, tarot cards, and signs in nature to make their decisions. This is called divination, and it is rooted in the Latin word for prediction. When people use divination to make decisions, they are seeking a safe prediction that a decision they make will turn out okay. Unfortunately, there are no safe predictions. Life is full of randomness and calamity. When people pray to God to make a decision for them or to “guide them spiritually” in their decision making, often times they are really just looking for a safe and confident feeling about whatever choice they end up going with. After all, who can argue with the will of God?

Human beings are obsessed with feeling secure in their decisions, that is why Enconomists and psychologists have discovered so many strange and irrational patterns in our thinking. Confirmation bias, choice-supportive bias, the halo effect, creeping determinism, attribution error, outcome bias, the sunk cost fallacy, and anchoring are just a few of the irrational things our brains do to help cope with the uncertainty of life and our choices. The sad thing is, I believe many people who are using prayer and trying to get a divine feeling from God for guidance in their decision making wind up being more likely to fall prey to these biases while simultaneously misattributing them to “God’s will.” I love what Jayson Bradley says about this in his “3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On” blog, “I am convinced that much of what we attribute to God is our own internal dialogue.”

Again, going back to the math problem example. God has given us the tools to work out these problems on our own (the analogy fails in that most math problems we are familiar with only have one right answer, whereas many choices we face have an abundance of right answers). He also gave us the tools to deal with the random tragedies and hardships that inevitably follow many of the good faith choices we make. He gave us those tools for an reason. Why would we reject them and join the rest of the lost and confused world that is desperately looking for security through signs and wonders?

Praying to God for help making a decision may not seem like demanding a sign or a prediction about how the future is going to turn out. Where do you expect to hear the answer? In your head? In something you happen to read in the Bible that day? In some other random phenomena? Asking God to make our decisions for us and then reveal what the right decision is can be nothing but demanding a sign because a sign is the only observable way we can receive the answer. Even an unexpected “peace of mind” or calm about a choice is more likely than not just a psychological phenomena misattributed as a sign from God. If our heads are full of so many irrational thoughts and communicating to us through “a feeling” is such a crapshoot, do you really think God would choose to communicate to us in this way?

There is no way to predict the future. And I don’t think God intends to give us peace of mind about the future by telling us what he wants us to do. In fact, if anything, God tells us that the future will be fraught with suffering. Our peace of mind should come in knowing God is in control, not from knowing we unlocked the code to making the correct choice about which path we should take in the game of life.

3. It dishonors the Bible

The thing is, God has already communicated to us. He gave us his complete word. And upon examining that word, we can see that it is full of allegories, historical stories, divine revelation, proverbs, and philosophy all designed to aid us in figuring out how to live our lives. The word was given so that we could know the mind and heart of God. And the word was given so that we could evaluate our own decision making processes and make wiser choices.

I am not saying your choice between what kind of car to buy, which job offer to accept, or which city to move to is cryptically hidden in the pages of the Bible waiting for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to it. But the Bible has a lot to say about vanity and wealth. The Bible has a lot to say about which uses of our time God rejoices in and blesses. The Bible as a lot to say about the deceptive desires of our heart. The Bible has a lot to say about what is valuable in God’s eyes and what is not.

The Bible is full of wisdom that can guide us. But when it comes to choices, that wisdom is often directed towards right or wrong choices, not choosing between morally neutral options such as which city to live in. There is plenty of wisdom in the Bible that can help us examine our motivations and values which is helpful in making a choice, but at the end of the day if all your motivations and values are in check the Bible never directs us to ask God to make choices for us.

It is a little bit like the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” God already gave us all the answers he intended: They are in the Bible. Anything beyond that, he has left up to us. Rejecting this and “asking God for the answer” is, I believe, a dishonor to the intent and complete nature of the Word.

4. It dishonors God’s creation

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14a

God created us with frighteningly high intelligence compared to the rest of nature. We have the ability to intuit, deduce, and logically evaluate decisions. We also have the ability to experience awe, deep emotions, and be moved by visual beauties, music, and experiences. All of these human capabilities come into play when we make decisions. And they should! That is how God created us. He set us in motion. He gave us the ability to use logic. He gave us the desire to form preferences.

And yet, for some reason, I am amazed at how often Christians want to supplement or in some cases downright reject those capabilities in order to have the answer handed to them from God. For example, the decision of living in Portland vs. Chicago could simply be a matter of personal preference. Guess who created you with the ability to form personal preferences? God did! You could also decide based on cold hard logic. Guess who created you with the ability to use logic? God did! You could also decide based on a mixture of the two. Guess who created you with the ability to weight your decision making processes in a way that is unique to you? God did!

With all these beautiful means of making decisions already at our fingertips, already handed to us directly from God, does it make any sense that God would want us to reject the tools he gave us and ask him to do all the heavy lifting? To me, it does not. In fact, not fully utilizing and rejoicing in our ability to establish personal preferences and make decisions, to me, is a rejection of God’s gifts and dishonors ourselves as creatures “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a God who loves us and gave us what we need to not only survive, but truly thrive in this reality.

IN CONCLUSION

The Bible gives us several guidelines on prayer, but none are more complete and ideal than The Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6. It reveals prayer to be, at its root a form of praising God, accepting God’s will, recognizing and thanking God for his blessings, seeking forgiveness, and acknowledging God’s place in the universe. Nothing more.

Because God exists outside of time, every decision we will ever make is already made in God’s eyes. God’s “plan for our lives” as interpreted by the seemingly big, but ultimately trivial preferential choices we make (where should I live? what kind of career should I have? what kind of person should I marry?) is less of a plan to God than a “it has already happened” viewpoint. We think we can change the future because of the illusion of time passing, but God sees the reality: The future has already happened. And that is God’s plan. Everything that happens is within God’s divine will. We literally can’t screw this up.

God set us into motion and gave us the ability to form personal preferences. I think that is because he wanted us to. So you strongly prefer blondes over brunettes. Is that immoral? No. Might that limit the kind of person you date? Probably. Are you going to miss out on “the one” God intended for you because you were only looking at blondes? I doubt it.

I doubt it because I think that what God intended for you was to pick “the one” out on your own. God didn’t pick someone for you. God doesn’t have a career in mind for you. God doesn’t want you to live in a specific place. He put a lot of drives and tools for making evaluations in your head. He gifted you with a book of wisdom and instruction manual on morality in the form of his complete Word. I don’t think God has any more planned out for you that you need to ask him to clue you in on. Sometimes amazing or horrible things just happen because they happen, not because of a particular decision you made that God chose to bless or curse you for.

Gods set you into motion with the ability to plan your own life. And now you have arrived at this point of decision with everything you need to make it own your own. It is okay to make a major life decision and say, “I chose this because that is what I preferred, not because God told me to.” And you know what? I think it will be a good choice, whichever choice you decide.

And you will too. Because God also gave you this silly thing called choice-supportive bias so that in the end you can have some irrational peace of mind.

  • Stan Wiedeman

    I have to admit that I have moved in this same direction over the past couple of decades. I do believe that the singularly most important factor in decision-making is wisdom. James tells us that when we think we lack it, we should ask God to give it to us. And when things don’t turn out the way we hoped because we failed to use it, don’t blame God. (James 1:5-8)

    We must acknowledge, however, that the Holy Spirit does play some kind of role in our volitional life. God uses a host of methods to guide us in decision-making and we can see this throughout Scriptures and history, but he is still guiding in some way.

    The problem comes in discerning and determining the Spirit’s work of guidance. How does he “prompt” us and how do we know with certainty when he does? I don’t know anyone who has answered that question with certainty or adequately. This aspect of the spiritual life is indeed mysterious.

    Having said that, however, I do believe that God does call us to vocations or opportunities for serving him and advancing his kingdom on earth. And on occasion, that calling comes through a very clear sense of internal prompting to make a certain decision or follow a certain path. I do believe these are rare rather than the norm, but nevertheless real. These “promptings” are always open to interpretation, but we should be very cautious in dismissing them as a legitimate means of God’s guidance in our lives.

    The stumbling comes when people want to live a hyper-spiritualized life, seeking these mysterious promptings rather than wisdom for decisions, both large and small. This really does seem to take a very narrow view of Scriptures and of God in understanding the spiritual life. This practice usually ends with frustration and disillusionment because it is not grounded in a wholistic interpretation of Scriptures.

    In trying to avoid the spiritualized habit of life, however, we must be careful not to discount or ignore the reality of a spiritual life. God is real. The Holy Spirit is real. And He is actively working to guide us through life to achieve his glory. All of Scriptures attest to this. Although our interpretation of him and his work is distorted by culture, a sin nature, faulty assumptions, and a host of other obstacles, we must not abandon seeking to know him, because he and his will can be known, even if in some imperfect way.

    Though we traipse through the mud, in the fog, and in our frailty, nevertheless we persist in seeking. Let that seeking be with integrity as well as intensity.